Both the United States and Canada hold hidden treasures. For Catholics, one such treasure is the North American Martyrs. There are eight men who comprise this valiant band, but in Upstate New York, there are three: Fr. Isaac Jogues, Br. René Goupil, and Br. John de Lalande.
These men are memorialized through the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, New York. This site was purchased in 1884 by the Jesuits after extensive research was conducted by historians, topographers, and the Jesuits to determine where the village of Ossernenon would have been located in the 1600s. This was done through careful examination of Fr. Isaac Jogues’ writings and letters, which are preserved by the New York Historical Society.
Fr. Isaac Jogues entered the novitiate in Paris, France on October 24, 1624. His early education led him to continue his studies with the Jesuits to become a priest. Later, he would be sent to the New World in 1635— namely New France — to bring the Catholic Faith to the Natives. In July of 1642, Br. René Goupil would be sent to the Huron mission where Fr. Jogues was residing. That same year these men would be captured with their Huron companions by the Mohawks, one of the six tribes that comprised the Iroquois Confederacy. Later, a seventh tribe, the Tuscarora, would join in 1722.
Over the years, Catholic historians have debated who were the first American saints. Many suggested St. Elizabeth Ann Seton or St. Frances Cabrini. It was eventually determined that the North American Martyrs were the first because they gave their lives for Christ in the 1640s.
Br. Rene Goupil was the first of these three to be martyred. In 1642, he received a tomahawk blow to the back of the head for making the Sign of the Cross over a child. Beforehand, he had endured many tortures along with Fr. Jogues whose writings were compiled into The Jogues Papers, which provide vivid descriptions of the tortures endured.
One such powerful account is this: “. . . they fell upon me, and with their fists, thongs and clubs beat me until I fell senseless. Two of them then dragged me back to where I had been before: and scarcely had I begun to breathe, when some others, attacking me, tore out, by biting, almost all my nails, and crunched my two fore-fingers with their teeth, giving me intense pain. The same was done to René Goupil, the Huron captives being left untouched.”
Jogues would continue on to describe the Gauntlet that he and Br. Goupil would run while experiencing blows all over their bodies. This hill is still visible today at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs.
Later, Jogues escaped through the help of Dutch Protestants to Manhattan. From there he sailed back to France in 1644. He received a dispensation from Pope Urban VIII to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, despite the mutilation of his hands. His thumb and forefinger were especially mangled as they were targeted because he would hold the Eucharist with them.
In 1646, he and Br. John de Lalande would return among the Iroquois tribes and suffer the same fate as Br. Goupil. Both men would be martyred with a tomahawk blow to the back of the head.
Among the trees and singing birds at the Shrine lies a hidden treasure. Fr. Jogues buried what he could find of St. René Goupil’s remains, so they would not be disturbed. It was a labor of love as he tracked down his companion’s body.
The area where this saint is said to reside is called The Ravine. The term is both literal and spiritual as water physically runs its course through the trees. Yet, it blends with the blood of martyrs for somewhere among the trees is a hidden treasure that speaks beyond death. It cries out loudly in the silence — Victory! Another saint has earned the red crown of martyrdom and sown the seeds of salvation. These three men truly did earn their crowns, along with Father John de Brebeuf, Father Noël Chabanel, Father Antony Daniel, Father Charles Garnier, and Father Gabriel Lalemant. Their sacrifice primed the soil of the New World, so that each one of us could cultivate this land for Christ by living holy lives Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam — All for the Glory of God.